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Literature in Society: Narrative, Fiction and Voice


Admission requirements

BA in Literary Studies or related discipline


Literature not only reflects upon social and political issues, it also shapes them, helps them develop and (de)legitimizes them. In that sense, literature is not separate from society; rather, it lies at the heart of how we understand the social and political. In this course, participants study three core concepts that enable them to understand the interaction between literature and society. More specifically, students study how literary concepts such as narrative, fiction and voice play a pivotal role in shaping our views on politics, trauma, environment and global identity among others. Participants thus learn how literary strategies shape the social and political sphere in which we live.
To begin, narrative is employed well beyond the domain of literature, to explain and legitimize social, cultural or political institutions, events and histories. Companies like Starbucks create narratives, and so do cities when they are thinking about city branding and governments in their attempt to ‘sell’ their policy. So how can we use our literary expertise in narrative analysis to understand these phenomenon? And how are these shaped by a specific (Western) understanding of narrative and literature?
Similarly, fiction lies at the heart of some of the most pressing issues in politics, identity and medical sciences today. For example, we have no exact definition of what ‘death’ means: medical, juridical and psychological insights converge here, clashing in what can only be called a fictional construct. By being attentive to how society must employ fiction in all of its nooks and crannies, to hold the place together, we can use our expertise in literature to contribute to a critical analysis of society. Finally, other voices (or polyphony) shows how literature’s ability to orchestrate and combine contradictory voices in one and the same story can serve as the ideal starting point for an analysis of the post-national, multicultural global societies that are currently emerging.

Course objectives

By the end of this course, participants
1) Understand the various ways in which literature impacts the social and political dynamics of European society today.
2) Can define, reflect upon and critically employ core concepts in literary theory (narrative, fiction, voice) to analyze, describe and explain the role of literature in society.
Research MA students should reveal in their coursework a more nuanced understanding of the complex relationship between social formations and cultural productions by means of a more detailed and thorough theoretical/methodological framework.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

Lectures mixed with workgroup class meetings.

Assessment method


Midterm Exam: written take-home exam with essay-questions (40%)

  • Active participation during the seminars (10%)

  • Final paper (50%)

  • Research MA students will have to write an extra 3000 word paper on a topic to be decided in consultation with the tutor.


Written take-home exam with essay-questions 40%
Active participation during the seminars 10%
Final paper 50%


Only the paper can be re-taken.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.

Reading list

Selection of theoretical, secondary and primary texts. The following novels and dvd’s will be used during the lectures and seminars and should be purchased by all participants:

  • J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace, Vintage Publishing: London 2000

  • Tom Lanoye, Fortunate Slaves, World Editions: Breda 2015

  • Toni Morisson, Beloved, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1992


Enrolment through uSis for classes, exams and final paper for classes, exams and final papers is mandatory. General information about uSis is available online.

When registering students of the MA Literary studies take priority. The deadline for registration is August 15. All other students should contact the coordinator of studies: ms. Mr.drs. P.C. Lai

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


For questions about the content of the course, you can contact the teacher dr. E.A. Op de Beek.

Student administration: Arsenaal
Coordinator of studies: ms. Mr.drs. P.C. Lai


This course is also suitable as an elective for students from the other Literary Studies tracks. A detailed programme will be sent to participants to their umail address, after registration in uSis.
Maximum number of participants: 20. No new participants will be admitted after the first meeting.